From wrestler to fighter, Josh Koscheck transition

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    Chad Moechnig
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    Post subject: From wrestler to fighter, Josh Koscheck transition PostPosted: Mon Sep 26, 2005 9:40 am

    Joined: Mon Mar 21, 2005 7:35 pm
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    When you’re a Division I wrestler, a victory is never a foregone conclusion, no matter who you step on the mat against. It could be the lowest ranked athlete on his squad, but to make it to that level, he must have been the top dog once, whether in high school or junior college. So suffice to say that when you get a win in a Division I wrestling match, it’s an accomplishment, and nothing that comes easy.

    Now add a couple of wins to that mark and start making a name for yourself. Add a few more, and a few more. Soon, you’re 37-0 and entering the NCAA tournament as the man to beat, the guy with a bright red target on your back.

    That’s pressure.

    Josh Koscheck, a four-time All-American wrestler and 2001 NCAA champion, knows all about that pressure. He was the 37-0 wrestler entering the 2001 NCAA championships.

    “In wrestling, there’s a lot of pressure because everybody’s gunning for you,” admitted Koscheck. “You’re ranked number one in the country, you’re 37-0 going into the NCAA tournament and there’s pressure because you haven’t been beaten all year, and at the NCAA tournament you always see upsets like that, where you have a guy who’s the number one seed and he’s 40-something and 0, and he gets upset in the first or second round. There’s a lot of pressure on that, but I’ve been competing since I was a kid, I had great coaches around me – Tim Flynn and Lou Roselli up at Edinboro University – and they just kept me relaxed and calm and I just whipped through the competition like it was going out of style.”

    Koscheck would end his championship season at 42-0, and in his senior year he would again grab All-American honors while placing third in the NCAAs. The next obvious step for the Pennsylvania native would not only be coaching, but the Olympics.

    “I thought I had a shot (at the Olympics),” said Koscheck. “It might not have been until 2008, but I thought that in 2008 I could realistically make the Olympic team.”

    Koscheck displayed his amazing wrestling ability with a picturesque slam
    against Chris Sanford at The Ultimate Fighter finale

    He received his degree in Criminal Justice, began working on his Masters degree, and started coaching at Edinboro.

    Life was set, you would think. But then wrestling and a 9 to 5 just wasn’t cutting it. So he left. The first to go was wrestling.

    “One of the reasons why I left wrestling is because there wasn’t a big fan base following it and there wasn’t a great payday,” he admits. “You can train your butt off just as hard as most guys in MMA train – you train the same way for wrestling – and there was no reward. The reward was getting my hand raised, and that wasn’t paying my bills and feeding me. So I realistically was very stale with wrestling; I was at a point to where I thought I knew everything about wrestling and I didn’t think I was getting better. And plus I didn’t have the training partners that I needed, and I was just like, ‘what am I doing? I think I’m wasting my time.’”

    Koscheck, a lifelong athlete, not only in wrestling, but in football, wasn’t about to become a couch potato though. He found mixed martial arts through a chance meeting with ‘Crazy’ Bob Cook and DeWayne Zinkin, flew out to the American Kickboxing Academy (AKA), and on January 3, 2004, with a submission win over Cruz Chacon, Josh Koscheck became a professional fighter.

    Try telling that to your family when you’re a couple of classes short of your Masters degree and you dump a solid career for the unpredictable and dangerous world of combat sports.

    The responses are what you expect they would be.

    ‘What the hell are you doing?’

    ‘You want to fight?’

    ‘You sure you want to do it?’

    ‘Why are you going to do this?’

    ‘Why do you want to fight? You’ve never fought before.’

    Securing a rear naked choke against Spratt at the August Spike TV card,
    Koscheck showed the world that he was more than just wrestler

    Koscheck’s response was simple: “Well, I guess I’ll learn.”

    He also explained that as a four-time All-American, a coaching job would probably always be available, and that school would also be waiting whenever he decided to go back and finish up his degree. But if he wanted to strike while the iron was hot athletically, he had to act now.

    And act he did. Koscheck trained religiously, scored another win over Luke Cummo, and then got the call that would accelerate his career like nothing else could – he was going to be on the first season of the reality television series, The Ultimate Fighter.

    “I wasn’t a fighter before I got on that show,” he laughs. “I was a wrestler, and basically, it was overwhelming because I didn’t think the show was gonna take off like it did.”

    The show was a big success, in great part due to the rivalry between Koscheck and Chris Leben. And love him or hate him, you had to pay attention to the kid from PA. And the fans did.

    “I get thousands and thousands of e-mails every day and it’s amazing what it’s done for my life,” said Koscheck. “Most of the time, if you’re calling my phone in the last six months, it’s been ‘voice mail filled’. So it was overwhelming at one point. Now things are starting to slow down a little bit, but you really don’t picture yourself in that position – because I grew up in a blue collar, hard working family – getting to the point to where ‘okay, now you’re on a reality show.’ So I get on TV, and after the show it’s like ‘Oh my God, it’s crazy.’ I go into the UFC and they have to move my seat because fans are coming down to get autographs and pictures. So it is a bit overwhelming, but in another sense it’s good. It’s good for our sport and the fighters.”

    History lesson over, fast forward to September 2005, and Josh Koscheck isn’t just someone who made some noise on a reality show. Puck or Richard Hatch? Uh-uh, not here. Koscheck, 27, is firmly entrenched in the UFC’s welterweight division after a win over Chris Sanford in April, and an even bigger victory over Pete Spratt in August. The Spratt victory was a revelation, mainly because of the ease in which he took ‘The Secret Weapon’ apart before choking him out at the 1:53 mark of the first round.

    Even the Secret Weapon had to applaud Koscheck’s performance on Spike TV

    “I kinda thought the fight would pretty much go that way,” said Koscheck. “If you look at my prediction on Sherdog.com before the fight, right at the weigh-ins, I said that I thought I would submit him in the first round. And I kinda thought that months before because I thought that I would mount him. I was getting it a lot in practice; it was one of those things that we were working on. I passed his guard and mounted him; he gave me his back and I pretty much took his back and choked him. But I definitely respect the fact that Pete Spratt is a tough guy and it was an honor to fight him because he’s fought some of the best guys in the UFC already. It just puts me in the improvement range – I just beat Spratt, so I’m getting better because he’s a tough guy and a good fighter.”

    Unlike a lot of rising stars, Koscheck is confident but not unrealistic in his self-evaluations. As a fairly new mixed martial artist, he is still getting more proficient in the nuances of the sport, something he readily admits.

    “In general, the switch from wrestling to MMA is difficult,” he said. “In wrestling, of course, you want to hold the guy on their back and look to get points. In jiu-jitsu and fighting, the guy can lay on his back and it’s nothing. Plus, there are punches, kicks, knees, and elbows involved, so it’s a different transition and it was a pretty hard transition for a while. But I think that the repetition of training and getting around the right team and the right training partners made my transition a little bit easier.”

    It doesn’t hurt that Koscheck is used to performing on the big stage in pressure-packed situations, something he has dealt with much of his athletic life.

    “I’ve been competing in sports my whole life,” he said. “It makes the transition of feeling nervous and competing in front of big crowds easy. I’ve been competing in front of big crowds my whole life. All through college there were 20,000 fans at the NCAA tournament, so I’ve wrestled and competed in front of big crowds. It took that nervousness away. But I look at everything going into a fight as just the competition of a wrestling match. Because if I can turn it into a wrestling match, 90 percent of the time I’m gonna win.”

    The question is, will he always be able to turn a fight into a wrestling match like he did against Spratt? On October 3rd, fans will get to see the progression of Koscheck’s style when he battles another veteran, Drew Fickett. Koscheck is confident of victory, and also of giving the fans a fight to remember.

    Fickett is a wrestler who uses technique and strength to dominate fights on
    the ground, often from the top position, something that Kos wants to avoid

    “I think it’s gonna be a pretty good fight,” he said Monday night. “I actually just watched tapes on Drew today for the first time. I think that I definitely have a little more takedown skill than Drew so I’m thinking that if Drew’s on his back it’s gonna be a long night for him. If Drew can keep the fight standing, it could be entertaining for the fans because we’re both wrestlers, and I’ve been working with AKA and Javier Mendez, and he’s got my hands ready to go for this fight, and if it comes down to it and we have to stand up, then the fans are definitely going to see some improvement.”

    But some would say there’s no substitute for experience, and Fickett holds a huge edge in that department with 27 MMA bouts (24-3) compared to four (4-0) for Koscheck. How does he deal with the little things that an old pro can spring on a fighter on fight night?

    “I think its experience in fighting, more than the little things that he does or the little things that I do,” he explains. “The little things, I don’t think, are too particular when it comes to MMA because things change. In boxing, you can see little things and pick up little things that they do in their game that they probably do it in a fight. MMA is so unpredictable that I really try not to focus on little things. I try to see if he’s weak in one area, or if he’s a good wrestler, what does he try to do when he wrestles. I try not to pinpoint such little things like ‘does he move his head to the left or the right?’ I try to see areas of his game and exploit them.”

    And having competed at the highest levels of amateur wrestling has definitely aided in Koscheck’s ability to adapt to whatever comes his way, whether it’s a submission lock, a left hook, or the pressure to win or go home.

    “It’s definitely helped me now,” said Koscheck. “There’s pressure in this sport because if you don’t perform, you could be gone really fast, and it happens a lot in our sport. If you don’t perform to par every single time, or you have a bad day, you could be gone. So there’s definitely pressure in this sport, and as a fighter, this is my career, this is my livelihood, so that puts an extra pressure on me to pay the bills. But being a national champion, 42-0, has definitely helped me. Wrestling has taught me a lot about competing, it’s got me where I’m at today, and I’m very appreciative of that. And one reason why I train so hard is because of that pressure.”

    Having the inevitable critics to silence doesn’t hurt either when it comes to motivation.

    “I think that there’s a lot of people out there that hate me,” he said. “I do glance at the (Internet) forums occasionally, and there’s a lot of talkers on there. But I think I’ve proven, after my Sanford and Spratt fights, that I’m improving as a fighter, and I’m only going to continue to improve because of the fact that I dedicate myself to fighting. That’s what I want to do; I want to be successful in this sport, and I pretty much feel that I definitely am getting more successful every day.”

    Relaxed and confident, Koscheck sees a top-10 ranking around the corner

    With success comes the rise up the 170-pound ranks. And with the way some of the alumni from the first season of ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ are being moved, don’t be surprised if Koscheck lands in a title fight sooner, rather than later. He would welcome the chance, but he’s not in a hurry either.

    “It could take me two years,” said Koscheck when asked for his timetable on getting to the top of the welterweight division. “I know it took (UFC light heavyweight champ) Chuck Liddell forever to get his title, so it could take me a long time. I’m in no hurry. I feel that I need a lot of improvement, but in a year and a half I feel that I’ll be able to stand and fight with anybody in the UFC, Japan, or Pride.”

    On this side of the pond, the top dogs include champion Matt Hughes and rapidly improving top contender Georges St. Pierre. Is Koscheck ready for them?

    “I watch them, but I don’t think I’m at their league yet, and I have to be honest with myself,” he said. “I’d have to be completely lying to myself if I said tomorrow that I could fight St. Pierre or Matt Hughes. I would fight them, don’t get me wrong, but to beat them, I would need more skills and more experience. I definitely watch their fights, and I watch what they do because they’re the top guys in my weight class and they’re potentially the guys that I want to beat. I’m studying them, I’m watching them, and I’m intrigued by the things that they do. It only motivates me to train harder.”

    Ultimately, that’s what it’s going to take for Josh Koscheck to hang with the elite – a lot of training, a lot of sweat, and a lot of fighting and winning. He’s prepared to do all of the above, but he’s also ready to pick up the phone at a moment’s notice and fight – anyone.

    “I’m the type of person who believes that the day of the fight, whatever you have, that’s what you’ve got to win with,” he said. “It doesn’t matter, there are no magical skills that are gonna pop into your brain and hop into your body. On October 3rd against Drew Fickett, I’ve got to win with what I have. If I get a challenge fight for the championship against whoever it is, I’ve got to beat them with what I have, so if the time comes, I’ll be ready.”

    So don’t call him a wrestler. Call him a fighter.

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